Joyeux Noël

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50.0 mm || 1/80 || f/2.5 || ISO3200 || NIKON D7000
Seattle, Washington, United States

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year if I don’t get around to making another post before the end of the year.

The BlackBox Case

Back In The Day™ I went to college with a kid named Lance Atkins. We shared many interests, including eating spaghetti every other Wednesday night. We were also lab partners in Machine Design, “an introduction to the principles of mechanical design [where m]ethods for determining static, fatigue and surface failure are presented.”1 We had fun. And we then we graduated. Lance declared his retirement from engineering and then went off to go fly planes — which I find interesting considering I work for an aerospace company and which Lance blames on Top Gun.

Then Lance had a crazy idea:

From www.blackboxcase.com:

What do you want most? Start a business? That pretty girl on the subway? Ride a wild ostrich? Believe you want it and do it. We promise, the freedom is wonderful.

As Lance noted though, “…There is one caveat to your dreams, though. You have to risk that which you fear most: failure. So we set before you our risk. We have been working so, so hard to perfection. There are jobs that have been quit, money invested, and a few cuts and criticisms along the way.”2

And thus was born BlackBox Case, a better, stronger kind of protection for MacBooks, and “a product of curiosity, experimenting, and the hard work and obsession of some friends.”3

Andrew: First things first, I remember a very distinct comment from you the day after graduation where you declared that you had retired from engineering (having just graduated with a Bachelors in Engineering, Mechanical Specialty). Does this mean you’ve come out of retirement?

Lance: Aha! You may have caught me… I definitely am using my engineering skills. I’ve always been a builder, so I guess Blackbox Case is a natural extension of that. I enjoy that I get to be an artisan, craftsman and businessman, as well as engineer. Variety is the spice of life, you know.

There have been a variety of cases for MacBooks: neoprene sleeves, hard-shell plastic coverings, shoulder backs. Your case seems pretty unique, though maybe not the first to use wood; what was the motivation to create a different kind of case and what sets this case apart from the rest?

My laptops have always had a rough life. I just hated how they would get abused and develop cracks after a year of traveling around in a backpack. So I guess the idea started with a hardshell case that could isolate the laptop from that compression abuse. The next priorities were light weight and aesthetics. I checked into many materials, costs, and even did some finite element analysis to calculate what it would take to protect a computer from everyday life. I ended up being pleasantly surprised by wood, specifically oak, and it’s perfect properties. It’s stiff, light, and hard but not brittle. As a bonus, it’s pretty darn cool looking.

Is this case just for show or does it actually provide protection? What happens if I drop the case with my MacBook inside?

I’ve already talked about the “crush” protection it provides in a bag. We also expect a MacBook to survive a drop much better inside of a Blackbox Case. The case may be harmed, but a bicycle helmet breaks to protect your head, too.

Right now, the only way to get a BlackBox Case is through BlackBoxCase.com. Do you have plans to expand your distribution channels? Might we see the BlackBox in the Apple Store (online or brick and mortar)?

For now, we will sell only online. We may go retail in the future, but for now we are most concerned with turning out really amazing handmade MacBook Pro cases. We have a few tricks up our sleeve too. New products, new materials, you never know…

BlackBox Cases are currently made in Golden, Colorado, which I’m sure has an effect on the price. Will BlackBox Cases always be made in America?

Yep. We wouldn’t have started it here if it won’t stay here. I love the idea of employing local and buying local. I love designing products and the smell of sawdust, so I think we shall keep it that way.

15 Percent, that’s an awesome idea, one which I really like…almost more than the case itself. Tell us a little more about 15 Percent and what you hope to accomplish with it?

I think giving is, for me, a great way to let go of something I hold onto too tightly. It has the opportunity to do some creative good in this world too. We are challenging everyone to give us feedback about where the money should go, because we want this to be a community effort. What do I hope to accomplish? If we are to dream big, I want to give away $100,000. I don’t know where yet, that’s where you readers come in. I’ve done a lot of studying on the side effects of big money donation, so we seek to give to programs that are set up with wisdom and sustainability. Maybe you know someone who needs a hand up?4

Who else is on Team BlackBox? What’s their story?

My main man is Anthony. He was formerly a professional hardwood floor guy. He’s the chief of production. Austin used to work construction and is a web developer. We have also teamed up with some old friends to make this happen. Evan is a graphic designer, Mike is a business guru, and AK is a videographer. I have been really surprised at all the help and counsel we have gotten from other people. They’re coming out of the woodwork! (pun?) We’re having fun and learning a thousand things a day.

Oh, awesome — I love Anthony, he’s a good guy! Lance, thanks so much for sharing about BlackBox Cases, hopefully I can stop by next time I’m in town (some guy I know is getting married). And while I don’t have a MacBook (yet), you can bet I’ll be talking with you when I do get one.


  1. http://engineering.mines.edu/undergraduate-program/mechanical-engineering/courses/detail/?cid=EGGN411 

  2. http://www.blackboxcase.com/blogs/news/2321922-dream-big-or-else 

  3. http://www.blackboxcase.com/blogs/news/2321922-dream-big-or-else 

  4. NB: Link added by Andrew 

When It Snows, We Shut Down

Five years of driving in Colorado winters is great preparation for times like this in Seattle:

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40.0 mm || 1/800 || f/4.2 || ISO100 || NIKON D7000
Seattle, Washington, United States

Last week1 Seattle got an amazing 2-5″ of snow.

Unfortunately, while I can get around with such practice, my experience is unable to magically transport itself into others. Thus I am still stuck in a city that can’t clear roads with drivers who still do stupid things:

I digress.

The snow started in earnest Monday morning. We were in a cold snap the previous weekend, so I was pretty sure the snow would stick. I left work early on Monday so I wouldn’t get stuck in the traffic, which turned out to be a good call. I heard it took some people as long as 12 hours to get home.

I decided to work from home on Tuesday, which was a good call as things remained frozen overnight and I heard it was a nightmare to get to work.

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35.0 mm || 1/800 || f/4.2 || ISO100 || NIKON D7000
Seattle, Washington, United States

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70.0 mm || 1/640 || f/4.5 || ISO100 || NIKON D7000
Seattle, Washington, United States

Meanwhile, I commuted five minutes on foot my local Starbucks and camped out.

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18.0 mm || 1/50 || f/3.5 || ISO640 || NIKON D7000
Seattle, Washington, United States


  1. November 22-24th 

Prayer of Confession

We’ve been praying this confession at church recently, and I’ve really liked it…perhaps because it’s so true in my life. So I pray this confession:

You asked for my hands, that you might use them for your purpose.
I gave them for a moment, then withdrew them, for the work was hard.

You asked for my mouth to speak out against injustice.
I gave you a whisper that I might not be accused.

You asked for my eyes to see the pain of poverty.
I closed them, for I did not want to see.

You asked for my life, that you might work through me.
I gave a small part that I might not get too involved.

Lord, forgive my calculated efforts to serve you — only when it is convenient for me to do so, only in those places where it is safe to do so, and only with those who make it easy to do so.

Father, forgive me, renew me, send me out as a usable instrument, that I might take seriously the meaning of your cross.

Amen.

Seattle Half Marathon

High on the tails of my successful sprint triathlon, I thought it might be a good idea to run a half marathon. I know what you’re thinking, “Andrew, you are crazy!”

You would be correct.

But I did it anyway. I didn’t actually want to run a half-marathon, but there weren’t any 10K runs that were near anytime in 2010. My friend Shannon somehow convinced me that running a half-marathon wasn’t a bad idea, so I started preparing. Shannon told me about a book called Run Less, Run Faster1:

From www.amazon.com:

Finally, runners at all levels can improve their race times while training less, with the revolutionary Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) program.

Hailed by the Wall Street Journal and featured twice in six months in cover stories in Runner’s World magazine, FIRST’s unique training philosophy makes running easier and more accessible, limits overtraining and burnout, and substantially cuts the risk of injury, while producing faster race times.

The key feature is the “3 plus 2” program, which each week consists of:

-3 quality runs, including track repeats, the tempo run, and the long run, which are designed to work together to improve endurance, lactate-threshold running pace, and leg speed

-2 aerobic cross-training workouts, such as swimming, rowing, or pedaling a stationary bike, which are designed to improve endurance while helping to avoid burnout

With detailed training plans for 5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon, plus tips for goal-setting, rest, recovery, injury rehab and prevention, strength training, and nutrition, this program will change the way runners think about and train for competitive races.

My biggest problem is that by time I got the book and decided to run, I only had about 8 weeks to get ready instead of the 16 the plan called for. So I just launched into the middle of the training program which more or less worked. However, the last few weeks my perfectly laid plans started falling apart as I couldn’t find time (and sometimes couldn’t even find motivation) to run — especially the long distances.

One of the more miserable running experiences involved a 5:50am wake-up for a 6am run around Green Lake in the pouring rain.

I did have fun running down Roosevelt, across the University bridge, down East Lake Avenue East (past KIRO), around the south end of Lake Union, up West Lake Avenue North, back across the Freemont bridge, and up Stone Way.

The last week before the race was particular difficult because it had snowed in Seattle and I was only able to run once around Green Lake (about 3 miles) on Thanksgiving day; and the ground was still compact snow and ice.

The night before the race I was at an awesome wedding (which I’ll blog about later). The problem here was the wedding was about two hours away, by car, and copious amounts of alcohol were present. I managed to hold my liquor and get enough sleep and woke up Sunday morning raring to go!

Shannon’s roommate, Laurie2, gave us a ride to the start line. A quick pit stop to drop off my stuff, a bathroom check, and off we went:

Off to a good start, running beneath the monorail. I started running about 10 minutes after the gun went off, mostly due to the bathroom line. Fortunately, my official time is chip based.
Running through downtown Seattle. I was grooving out to Explosions in the Sky on my iPod, which I felt was a very good mood setting music to start with.
I think this is the turn off from I-90. Rockin' it!
Coming down the finish line in Memorial Stadium. The astroturf felt SO nice on my feet and give me the extra energy to sprint through the finish line.

They even had video of the finish line.

Greenlake running champs. Photo © 2010 Shannon Erickson.
'I'm a winner, bitch.' I'm pretty sure that's what he said here. Photo © 2010 Shannon Erickson.

My finish time was 2:29, which was about 9 minutes over my target of 2:20. I blame the nipple chafing, and the fact that running any distance past 10 KM is just gratuitous and unneeded. By the way, nipple chafing is the top 20 reasons guys should not run a marathon3. I stopped by a med tent at about mile 9 and asked for some tape (thinking I would just cover my nipples). Apparently, Vaseline is the more appropriate solution and they had plenty of that just waiting for people like me.

My other issue was something I believe to tarsal tunnel syndrome and some pain behind my left knee which could be hamstring tendonitis — but I’m an engineer, not a doctor.

Gray's Anatomy FIG. 442. The mucous sheaths of the tendons around the ankle. Medial aspect.

My plan for now is to not run, probably for the rest of the year. Then start looking for a nice 10K to run next year and I think I’ll also run Beat the Bridge.

And now for the stats:

Course Elevation

Run Profile

Overall Place4: 5911th (out of 7618)
Men Place5: 2794th (out of 3237)
Men 20-24 Place6: 220th (out of 246)

Average Pace7: 7:06 minutes/KM
Average Speed8: 8.5 KM/hour
Time9: 2:29:39
1st split10: 1:11:10
2nd split11: 1:18:29

Finishers Certificate


  1. Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, Ray Moss, et al 

  2. Kickedsarahinthefacetwice 

  3. hat tip to Katelyn Hackett 

  4. based on chip 

  5. based on chip 

  6. based on chip 

  7. based on chip 

  8. based on chip 

  9. based on chip 

  10. based on chip 

  11. based on chip